By Rathnavel Pandian
The Kannapuram annual cattle market or Shandy (Sandhai in Tamil) takes place close to two famous and old temples – Vikramacholeswarar temple built by the King Vikrama Chola in early 12th century AD and the Maariamman temple at Kannapuram village in Tiruppur district of Tamil Nadu. The market, primarily for the sale of the native cattle breeds, happens once a year coinciding with the annual car festival  `Thaer thiruvizha’ of the temples. 
Although it is difficult to trace the history of the market, oral history and local legend indicates that it is around 800-1000 years old. The highlight of the market has been the sale of indigenous cattle breed (naatu maadu), particularly the Kangayam cattle breed. According to legend, people aggregated in the premises for the car festival in the month of April, arriving in sturdy bullock carts. Interactions and interest on the cattle among them eventually lead to the evolution of a cattle market alongside the temple car festival.
Besides the Kangayam cattle, other indigenous cattle breeds such as Bargur, Umbalacheri, Pulikulam and Aalambadi are also traded in the market. Buyers from neighboring districts, as well as from neighboring states come here to buy cattle for agricultural needs, breeding, raising for Jallikattu, racing and for other purposes.
However recently, as per the records maintained by the Shandy organizers, the number of cattle coming to the Shandy has drastically fallen from as much as 1 lakh cattle in early 1990s, to about 15,000 cattle in 2015. Does this reflect an actual reduction in the number of indigenous cattle in the region, or simply a reduction in number of cattle coming to the market is something that needs to be unraveled.
Till the 80s and 90s, bullock carts were used for general transportation, while native bulls were also used for plowing the land, and for other farming works. Dung and urine of indigenous breeds were also used in making specialized organic fertilizers such as amirtha karasal (loosely translated to – elixir mix). Farmers also claim that dung of the hybrid cattle is not an effective fertilizer compared to the indigenous breeds.
However, mechanization replaced the bulls with machines; and the overall purchasing power of small farmers reduced over time. Artificial fertilizers have also gradually replaced organic fertilizers such as amirtha karasal. In other words, the utility of maintaining native livestock has greatly reduced, which also generally give less milk than hybrid cattle. Besides that, with the rise of internet usage, specialized WhatsApp groups, Facebook pages and groups have also begun to act as online markets for the sale and buying of cattle by richer farmers and livestock keepers. These new institutions could possibly have reduced the number of cattle arriving at the market, as they reduce transaction costs which otherwise would have been spent on transportation and labor in bringing the cattle to a market from far-away places.
I happened to visit Kannapuram Shandy on its final few days in April, 2019, and noticed the number of cows were already sparse. There were thatched roofs and structures built, dotted with adult cows, calves and stud bulls. As I walked through the Shandy, I struck a conversations with a group of livestock keepers from the Dharapuram Taluk of Tiruppur District. They had come to the market to sell their 1 year old calves.
The calves, he said, could fetch anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 rupees as they were quite small. However, since the previous year was drier than usual, they fetched only a maximum of 13,500 rupees. He said that he was waiting for someone to bid slightly higher to sell them. It made me realize that the price of a cattle was not merely determined by the quality of the cattle alone, but also by the buyer’s purchasing power. In other words, it was actually good for the cattle seller if the cattle buyer is doing financially well. A drought, however, affects both the parties involved.
The livestock keeper further added that he owned a small Korangadu land, less than an acre in size for grazing of his cattle. Korangadu, are private, fenced wooded grasslands, mainly found in the districts of Tiruppur, Karur and Erode Districts of Tamil Nadu. The small paddocks could vary in size, anywhere from half an acre to about 120 acres (as fixed by the Land Ceiling Act of Tamil Nadu, 1972). They are fenced either by Commiphora berryi plants or metal fences, and the paddocks contain Acacia leucophloea trees (White-barked acacia or vella vela maram) that naturally grow in these rain shadow districts. The trees’ lower branches are usually pruned (called as limbing up) as a management practice , so as to allow space for the cattle to graze, as well as to have a single, tall, straight growing trunk of the tree. They are usually sold as second grade timber once every 5-10 years or so.
My work, as part of the WWF Small Grants Innovation Programme in the landscape, was to study the factors affecting the soil carbon of the Korangadu grasslands. Kannapuram Shandy was a late addendum to my project plans, yet was very useful in understanding how the institutions of cattle rearing and trading work in western Tamil Nadu.
Visit to the Kannapuram cattle market enabled me to search for and ask relevant questions like – is the sale and ownership of cattle in the landscape associated with certain communities? Does cattle ownership depend on the ability to own and graze in Korangadu lands, since common lands are quite ‘uncommon’ in the landscape? What are the socio-cultural aspects that still sustain the sale indigenous cattle industry as compared to the hybrid cattle industry, that essentially pushes for higher milk yield? What role do State, NGOs, and cattle conservation networks play in conservation of native cattle breeds in the region? Though further rigorous research is needed to understand the relevance of these questions for social and ecological sustainability, the cattle market helped me get a glimpse of an age-old institution that has survived despite modern market pressures. However, other drivers such as climate change, increased unpredictability of water availability in a rain-shadow region, changes in farming trends and corporatization of farming might severely affect these institutions of cattle rearing in the Korangadu grasslands, and cattle trading in the native cattle markets. Studying the intricacies of such institutions is a very important step towards understanding ways to conserve native cattle biodiversity.
 Car festival is usually a procession of the temple’s primary God (in form of an idol) in a specialized chariot/car around the temple.
About the author
Rathnavel Pandian is currently a Research Assistant at ATREE, working on the long-term socioeconomics of Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) collection in the Biligiri Ranganathaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve (BRT). He was a Research Affiliate at ATREE working on the relationship between soil carbon sequestration, dung beetles and grassland management in the Korangadu grasslands. His research interests broadly lie in the social and political aspects of ecological and economic change, institutional and sustainable resource management and governance. He also writes short stories, poems and short essays at medium.com/@rathnawhale .